CARTER IS PRESIDENT & Coleman’s mustard is for sale in Arak – TOWARDS ESFAHAN, IRAN, 1976

SATURDAY 6TH NOVEMBER, 1976

“Lovely sunrise.  Lots of kids came to watch us with great amusement.
Shopping stop at Hamadan – oldest city in Iran.  Lots of bananas!  Wandered round market with Sally, Fran and Adrian.  Saw them making kidney kebabs; bought little buns.  Looked in ceramic shop – lovely cups and jugs.

Afternoon stop at ArakNewspaper bought – Carter President of U.S. – first news for weeks!
Incredible amount of western shops.  Went into one that sold peanut butter – about £1 for tiny jar.  All products were British and foreign, like being back in Britain – even had Coleman’s Mustard!

Stopped at sunset by the road to have supper before driving on.  Sat at front seat changing tapes while everyone else slept.  Cay stop at bus terminus to Tehran – not very nice, but cafe was warm and pleasant.  Second stop at row of shops open late – bought nuts and nougat.  People watching telly in big cay/restaurant place.

Camped at midnight on large plain off the road – not much loo coverage.  Made cup of tea and burnt some wood and bush.”

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Cool Camping, hot cay and a silver moon over Western Iran, 1976

FRIDAY 5TH NOVEMBER, 1976

I’m the chef so it must be porridge?!

Freezing morning – hands nearly dropped off.  Same scenery – plains and hill ranges.
Sat at front for first time!
Stopped for shopping at Sanandaj.  Lots of men dressed in Kurdish costume – super turbans with tassles, cummerbunds etc.  Had cay in place where men were smoking hubble-bubble pipes.  On walls were pictures of the Shah and Empress and carpets with Mecca depicted.

Walked around – saw bread being made.  Big vat of dough – first man shaped in into rounds, second man rolled them out, third man slapped them around and spread on padded sack, then bashed them onto sides of oven until slightly brown, then sold thin wafery bread straight away.
Policeman chased people away from the bus.

Diana did a headstand in a cornfield, so I had a go – managed a quick one before keeled over!  Lunch stop by a river – had a paddle – very cold and refreshing.

Cay stop by wayside – people sitting crosslegged under trees.  Sat outside – loads of cay and great argument over prices, so probably half not paid for.

Camped near Kermanshah.  Lovely sunset over hills – orangy-yellow, with pinky violet sky in east over light brown hills with a big silver moon rising.  Camped off road near little village under a hill.  Locals (or lurcals) came to inspect us again.”

LANTERNS MADE OUT OF MELONS FOR GUY FAWKES! IRAN 1976

Iran is often portrayed negatively in the news these days, so it is strange to re-read the first impressions of my 18 year-old self, this time 36 year ago –  curious, excited, naive and glad to be there.

“Breakfast outside customs house, to amusement of lorry drivers.  Iran!
Small villages below hills – the hills and plains are very light in colour.  Dress is different – men with jumpsuits and boots and striking turbans.  Women with veils down to the ground, very light floaty material, often with jeans on underneath!
Rezaiyeh – first stop for money.  All banks closed because of festival of burning of prophets.  Lots of flags etc.  Towns seem to have ornamental rounds in middle of them, with statues and plastic animals etc.  Fountains not working.  Nice town, found money changer in bazaar.  Had a cay and first Iranian sticky cake! (Thurs – Neva’s gutsy day!)

People curious not pressing like Turks.  Lunch was flat waffery bread and tomato – bread a bit like cardboard.

Stopped later in smaller town for few minutes – nice biscuits and cakes and lots of nuts.  More picturesque costumes – people friendly.  Little boy saluted me as I got into bus!

Camped by river as sun going down – lovely orange sky, and pink in east.  Herds of sheep and goats.
Iranians came and looked round bus – perhaps looking for drugs.  Stood around while we ate.
Cut up melons and hollowed out faces for Guy Fawkes Night.  Didn’t have fire.”

A SHERIFF, A TURKISH PUZZLE AND A STICKY (CAKE) SITUATION – ISTANBUL, 1976

Yeni Cami (New Mosque), Istanbul

SUNDAY 17TH OCTOBER, 1976

Part Two:
‘Walked through market, reached Yeni Mosque, flocks of pigeons around the place.

At the quayside we bought fish and bread from a little bobbing boat, with a charcoal fire (looked hightly dangerous!)  Lined up by the rails were salt cellars and a bowl of garlic to be taken with the fish.

A Turk spotted Rob’s sheriff badge and got talking.  He took us to a cay shop up the hill from the Blue Mosque and we had another sticky cake on the way back!

Di, Jan and Rob eating fish at Galata Bridge

Then we went to St Sophia, a museum now so didn’t have to take off our shoes.  Tehran (a medical student) came back to the camp with us, we went up to the bar for a bit.  After supper I went to do some washing and Rob came and told me that Tehran wanted to see me.  Unfortunately he was sweet on me and wanted me for his girlfriend.  Gave me his Turkish puzzle ring!  He fixed for us all to go to a fish restaurant the next day.

Went back to bus eventually – had a little session; initiated the driver of the Encountertruck.’

KING OF NEPAL’S BIRTHDAY – truck loads of screaming kids: ‘Hello, bye-bye, Kathmandu!’ 1976

[This turned out to be a mega day – it started with a spectacular sunrise over the Himalayas and then dropping down into the Kathmandu Valley we found ourselves swept along in celebrations for the King’s Birthday.  My battered overlander’s shoes were not keeping pace – I was picking up blisters as well as cheerful children along the way.]

TUESDAY 28TH DECEMBER, 1976 – Part Two

“Lovely walk down – soon became warmer.  Little lad pointed out jungle to left.  Another kid joined us waving a palm type leaf, dressed only in grubby shirt – asked my friend if this was a friend of his and he said no firmly!  His school began at 11 but he’d set off down because his school was going into Kathmandu for the King’s Birthday.

At village we saw 2 truck loads of screaming kids set off shouting, “Hello, bye-bye, Kathmandu! Kathmandu!” Truck over-brimming with them!

Walked to Bhaktapur because minibus not there – it passed us just as we entered town!  My feet and Nikki’s were blistered from loose shoes coming down hill, so hobbled painfully to nearest cay shop!  (They make it with boiled milk and water in the same pan like Indians).

Through Bhaktapur – passed dead animals, potter spinning big stone wheel with a long stick.  Bought little cake things.

Caught trolley bus – whole of Nepal seemed to dash for door as soon as opened – nearly trampled in the rush!  Then there was loads of time before it left and everyone had a place so it was futile to begin with!  Don’t think there’s a word ‘queue’ in Nepalese!  Imagine the indignant looks and tutting that would receive such enthusiasm in ‘respectable’ Britain!

As bus progressed more and more piled on until it was almost impossible to ever get off!  Chris was complaining about rubbing shoulders with a frenchman and bottoms with a Nepalese!  He and Mark were swinging from the bars.  Pam was worried about the kid next to her with a plaster on his face in case he had chicken pox and also about the dead chicken in his mother’s string bag! 

(A mother was feeding her baby on the bus even after the baby had fallen asleep!)”

TREKKING OVERLANDER-STYLE – jeans, wedges and an orange! 1976

[After three months of sitting on a bus and doing nothing more strenuous than sightseeing and drinking cay, a trek into the foothills of the Himalayas – however short – was a test for the average Overlander.  Standard trekking equipment – jeans (newly washed for the first time since Kabul), Afghan jacket and scuffed wedged shoes!]

MONDAY 27TH DECEMBER, 1976 – Part One

Nagarkot, foothills of Himalayas, 1976

“Waved them [Rob, Maree and Diane] off from hotel – going to Bangkok.
Left after eleven with Chris and Nikki – meeting Mark and Pam at trolley bus.  After and few 100 yds the ropes of trolley came off the rails!
At Bhaktapur walked across vale – stopped for cay after 2 mins!  Asked way to Katipur, but man said didn’t have any of it!  Over bridge saw women washing below – and through filthy streets of Bhaktapur to Durbar Square.  Had another cay stop! (lovely curd).

Then piled into minibus with milk churns crunched up against our knees; 2 lads kept swinging in and out of van door collecting fares and pushing in sacks and people on top of us!  Really good fun!

Dropped at Karapati then started walking – little boy guide joined us plus various little fellas with baskets strapped to heads.  Up rocky path – very steep straight away.  Stopped on rocks for lunch (my breakfast) of cheese, bread, tomatoes, and an orange.  Talking of cheese, Chris said look behind me and I nearly jumped 10ft to see 2 black goats peering over my shoulder!

Went on past lovely little hamlets – yellow and orange painte houses with thatched roofs, with hens and kids rushing around, little stores with nuts and grain etc., women pounding grain and sieving it; cows trying to block us off!  We were wheezing and panting all over the place!  I managed to keep up near front!”